Of the boss’s thirteen first lieutenants, the one that had stood out the most and also had been the second in the boss’s line of succession was Ishii.
On the merit of seniority, the first lieutenant of Fukuoka—the city in which the clan’s head office resided—had been lacking compared to the headquarter chief, who had been elected into this position from his former position as the first lieutenant of Hyogo. When it came to likability, however, only Inoue from Nagasaki could come close to the lad himself.
In retrospect, these two youngsters often pulled a Manzai joke together whenever the occasion arose. Inoue was always the serious straight man who butted in and corrected while Ishii was the air-headed funny man who said the darndest thing ever out of the blue.
The short trip down the memory lanes cast a shadow of melancholy in the boss’s soft smile. In the end, Ishii had been the first to go. It did not hurt when that certain snotty puppy shot Ishii for voice his dissent; the only one time Ishii played the straight man, he was shot to death.
The boss averted his eyes from the young girl’s gaze. He did not think she could remember what he had said in that beaten-up state she had been in. At the time, he had been so infuriated that he could not recall exactly what he had blurted out but indeed, he had a vague recollection of maybe saying something in that vein.
It was always difficult to be the deliverer of bad news; depending on how bad the news was, it could make conversations between the recipient and the messenger awkward in the future. And, it was a risk he would rather not take. On the other hand, he would lose her trust if she later found out he had been hiding the truth from her; truly, a damn-if-he-does-damn-if-he-does-not situation.
“Young Sayaka…is he important to you?”
“No…not in particular, but, he is important to someone close to me,” she clarified.
“Ishikawa huh?” the boss crossed his fingers and mumbled to himself.
They let a minute of silence passed by. The girl still waited patiently for the answer. This reminded the boss of this morning when he first showed up in her class. These kids had their whole life ahead of them and they were in no hurry to see the end of it.
Finally, he made his decision.
“Very well, I’ll tell you…Yes, as you have suspected, Ishii is no longer in this world. He was shot last week, got into some disputes with gangsters and the likes. I do not know the details very well myself.”
He gave her a moment to let the news sink in.
“Many thanks, Mr. Shinoda. That’s all I need to know today. Ya may ask me anything ya want to know about the school now. I will try to answer to the best of my knowledge.”
“Young Sayaka, if you’re planning on telling Ms. Ishikawa about Mr. Ishii, I think you should reconsider it.”
“Many reasons…some will become apparent when you grow older and wiser, others you will learn when you lose someone you hold dear for the first time. How you should handle a person in grief varies on a case by case basis. Most of the time, you can get away with leaving the person alone for a while. In other cases, you will need to keep watch and make sure she doesn’t go about doing some silly nonsenses such as trying to kill herself…”
The girl shuddered here. She clearly had not considered the possibility.
“Some wounds will fully heal with time, others will leave permanent scars. If you’re not ready to handle the aftermath, it is best to just leave the dead horse where it lies. In my experiences, griefs caused by a broken heart are the most troublesome type. That’s why I haven’t told her anything yet.”
“Well, I think I’ll save my question for another day. You should have some time alone today, maybe do something you enjoy for a change. No sixteen-year-old should have to deal with this sort of gloomy topic. That goes for old people like me too, I suppose.”
Even though he had planned to let her go on a cliffhanger all along, it had been a more exhausting conversation than he had expected. He picked up his sword, the only belonging he had with him, and left first.
“Ah, wait, Mr. Shinoda! That is where—”
As soon as he opened the door, he stumbled upon a large gathering to students lying in ambush with metal pans and pots from home economics, improvised spears from knives and broomsticks, and a barricade of desks and pommel horses from the storage room. All of them awkwardly laughed when they saw the boss.
It did not take him much brainpower to figure out what was going on here.
With a blank, completely unamused expression, the boss glanced back at Sayaka, who too cracked an awkward laugh in response. She hastily signaled her subordinates to clear the barricade and get out of the way.
The sight served as a reminder not to treat these kids as ordinary high schoolers. He would have been in a real pinch facing this organized phalanx of shields and spears behind a barricade had the talk gone south at any point.
“Indeed…spears, shields, barricades…they are the correct answer to a sword, especially one with negligible stabbing power like a katana,” he remarked. “And what would you do if I took you hostage?” he asked.
“Hahaha…ya won’t be able to because I would have retreated behind the barricade while ya were surprised,” the junior Jjang answered, still with an embarrassed smile on her face.
He left the students to handle the cleanup by themselves and headed back to his apartment.
But, no sooner did he leave the campus than he realized a suspicious car was tailing him. A car; that meant his enemy was no student. There were still students and passersby on the path he was walking down so whoever in the car would not carelessly attack him just yet. This temporary safety would not last forever.
It could be bad. he needed to lose them somehow.
“There’s a car following you, Mr. Shinoda. Do you require any assistance?”
The boss glanced at the source of the voice. His head did not move so as to not draw attention from his pursuers. There, taking brisk strides to his right was a male student wearing a pair of rectangular glasses. The student was from Fukuoka High alright but the boss had never met this student before.
Or maybe he had but if he could not remember, it could not be helped. Unlike the other two Jjangs, there were no special traits that would help this student stand out in a crowd; everything about him, from the regular taper-cut to the buttoned-up navy blue blazer, screamed average. Even the way he talked was the regional Hakata dialect instead of Daisuke’s standard language or Sayaka’s Wakayama dialect.
Although, he was quite certain the fact that most students in Fukuoka High still used the regional dialect instead of the standard language was in itself exceptional, as well as a testament to their neglected education.
In any case, there was a suspicious car behind him and more likely than not he was being followed by either the police or the traitors. He would take any assistance he could get, even that from a mysterious student was better than nothing.
“Yes, I need help.”